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Build Your Collection II

The Nigel Tufnel collection goes to eleven (that’s one louder than ten). Note which guitar seems to have an elevated position among the others. Sure looks like a blonde dot neck.

OK, so the idea of a guitar collection appeals to you and you’d like to get started. So, let’s get started. There are lot of approaches to collecting and each has its charms. A good place to start is to look at what you already have. Got a nice old Stratocaster from, say, 1961? Well, you could start filling the years or filling in the finishes or filling in the types. A nice Strat collection would have to include a maple board and a slab board, maybe a later curve board with grey bottom pickups and maybe a custom color or two. If you really have a Strat obsession, maybe one from each year from 54 to 65. Build slowly and look for great examples. That’s a dozen good years and with a bit of patience, you could build a wonderful collection that is manageable and impressive. Not cheap but vintage collecting of any kind seldom is. Strats too expensive? Collect Jazzmasters or Jaguars.

But maybe you feel like your collection only needs one Stratocaster. So, instead of collecting just one model, collect the classics. Most folks would want a Les Paul, a Stratocaster, a Telecaster or Esquire, a 335, a Martin acoustic and maybe a great 12 string like a Ricky and a Fender bass. Once you’ve done that, you can build on that adding perhaps variations of your chosen “classics”. A Les Paul Custom to go with your Standard. A slab board Strat to go with your maple board. A white guard Esquire to go with your black guard Tele. A 345 or 355 to match your 335 and so on. And you don’t have to stop there. A Junior and a Special. A hard tail and a custom color. There is no end to how you can expand your “classics” collection. It will, as long as you have space and can afford it (and your wife or husband doesn’t divorce you), take on a life of its own.

Or maybe a different approach. Folks born in the 50’s and 60’s love to do birth year guitars. It’s not terribly appealing to me since I pre-date most of the good stuff. My ’52 collection would be awfully dull. I’d have a nice Telecaster and maybe an L5. But if you were lucky enough to be born in a truly golden year like 59 or 60, you could do a spectacular collection. But I’m being a bit of a snob. I know of a collector who has a wonderful collection of 60’s Japanese imports. Teiscos, St. Georges, Kents and Guyatones make for an interesting and fun collection. Collecting a single brand can be rewarding as well especially if your favorite is something from Gretsch or Guild. These can be great guitars and there’s a great deal of diversity within the brand. Neither brand fetches prices at the Fender and Gibson levels and you can build a very comprehensive collection for relatively little money. Of course, if one of your goals is investment, you might want to reconsider your Guild collection. They have not shown much appreciation over the years.

How about oddball European guitars? Geddy Lee’s wonderful bass collection has a load of Italian Wandres which are as weird as they come. Or the British Burns’ or even the Czech Futuramas (Resonet). I think a collection of 60’s Vox guitars would be great-they made about a zillion models-some English, some Italian (Eko). Or maybe you’re a bit younger and have a thing for 80’s guitars. There are some seriously collectible 80’s guitars that haven’t quite reached vintage status. BC Rich, Hamer, all those “Superstrats” and even 80’s Gibson and Fenders are all still very affordable. They don’t have to be great guitars. They just have to be interesting and appealing (to you).

Bottom line: Buy what appeals to you. Don’t try to anticipate which guitar will be the next burst. There probably isn’t a “next burst”. And don’t get too caught up in the investment aspect. That’s not where the fun is. If you buy guitars that you love (and will play) then even if you break even after many years, you will have had all the positive feelings that go along with creating and owning a personal collection. Collecting is an active hobby and active hobbies keep you engaged and will make you a happier person. Even though I’m not a collector, I still feel like it’s Christmas morning every time a new guitar shows up for me to unpack. It simply never gets old.

Joe Bonamassa has a pretty serious collection and perhaps no one has been more vocal about the joys of collecting than Joe. You can see that he leans toward the classics and seems to like Les Pauls a lot. Collecting amps is almost as much fun as collecting guitars.

10 Responses to “Build Your Collection II”

  1. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Great insights in this and the previous column, Charlie. And coincidentally, the Fender people have just started something that aims to speak to collectors’ concerns about provenance and authenticity … but I think looks like a market/money grab that invades the territory that you, Gruhn, Carter, Harris and other acknowledged experts occupy. I’d be interested in your take.

    The Fender Custom shop just introduced “Fender Certified Vintage” putting 5 vintage Stratocasters (’54, ’57 hardtail, and three ’65s) on Reverb.com that they claim were the templates for their vintage reissue series. They’ll supply each with a “Fender Certified Vintage” Certificate of Autheticity and a hand-entered checklist detailing the key features of each instrument. The guitars are in excellent condition but not minty-new–not as if they were found in the Fender bedroom closet. The prices are breathtaking — like $35K for a ’65 sunburst, $50K for a ’57 hardtail and $85K for a (later) ’54.

    A friend who collects brought this to my attention and asked me whether I thought they were worth the premium with a “Fender Certified” certificate. I suggested he press them on whether the value is truly in the “prototype/template” role they supposedly played or if there are more vintage guitars to come. Fender responded that they had not plans for more right now and that they were, in fact, “not archival, but have been with the brand [in Fender’s possession] for some time.”

    I think in the era of stratospheric prices and so much uncertainty over authenticity, this is a brilliant move to expand the Fender brand into the vintage resale marketplace. I could see Gibson following suit. But I also think that experts like you, and Norman Harris and George Gruhn, who have personally seen hundreds of vintage examples, may be more trustworthy sources than a guy in the Fender corporate offices.

    Sorry for the long post, but this has me concerned. Will the potential Strat collector you refer to in your column look to Fender and pay a 50-100% premium for an embossed “certified” certificate? Will Fender (and possibly Gibson) start buying up good examples and then marking them up for further resale? Your thoughts?

  2. RAB says:

    My 2 cents is Fender’s certificate wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel to me! I’d rather take the cost differential and buy another vintage fiddle!

  3. Nelson Checkoway says:

    RAB – I agree with you. And if I wasn’t clear, I suspected that their “template” argument was phony … and with them acknowledging they don’t know how long those guitars have been in their possession and that they would not dismiss doing more, it sounds like they just want a piece of the vintage resale business.

    Consider how long it took them to accurately copy their own vintage guitars — or even get their own history right (remember those late 60s ads saying that the current Tele was a good as the “1948” model???). I wouldn’t trust them to be the arbiters of authenticity. I think this first run is a toe in the water — a proof-of-concept test to launch a “Fender Certified” vintage store.

  4. Leeds says:

    Another thoughtful, informative and intelligent piece, Charlie. Thank you. On another note: If Fender or Gibson were to bring their vintage operations to the level of authenticity, expertise and provenance of Mercedes-Benz (and other marques) with their Classic Center operations they would be alternatives to respected vintage dealers. However, M-B provides NLA parts and accurately restores classic vehicles. They don’t buy and sell “barn finds”, or pull cars from their museum collections to sell. With the emphasis on originality in the guitar world, as opposed to the restored examples in cars (and other collectibles), Fender/Gibson may well find buyers for these guitars, but won’t take the place of trusted independent vintage experts and dealers.

  5. okguitars says:

    I suggested something along these lines to Gibson (through a third party) and they weren’t interested. I think having corporate involvement in the vintage market could be a good thing. Your point that the major dealers know more about most guitars than the folks at Fender or Gibson is well taken. But doing this might compel these companies to hire, as consultants, folks who know the product like Gruhn or Carter or Harris. The number of guitars that I see listed on Reverb (by individuals AND dealers) that are totally misrepresented is appalling. Wrong year, wrong parts, even the wrong model are common errors (not to mention stupid prices). I think some kind of authentication clearing house for vintage guitars-with a certificate-would be a useful thing. I think that a formal authentication operation would be great whether handled by Gibson or Fender (with expert consultants) or by a consortium of knowledgeable dealers. But, truthfully, that’s what dealers are supposed to be doing in the first place. Anyone who buys a guitar from an individual is taking a big chance. 95% of the guitars I buy from individuals have undisclosed (and usually minor) issues. Not because they are dishonest but mostly because they simply don’t know. Guitars from many dealers have undisclosed issues as well but the percentage is more like 20% and nearly all dealers will make good on those issues if you call them out. Individual sellers? Not so much. But when you buy a guitar from Grandma who doesn’t know a pickup from pickaxe, you can’t expect her to know what’s original and what isn’t. An “authenticated” vintage guitar could eliminate a lot of these problems.

  6. Nelson Checkoway says:

    I love your idea of an authentication clearinghouse. Agree totally that so much is misrepresented online–it makes going to dealers like you a no-brainer. I would argue that the vintage market is best served by a consortium of experts, each with tremendous depth in a niche area. You would be the go-to for vintage ES-3*5 guitars. Even the “generalists” who deal across the market would benefit. I have a friend and colleague who is an expert in a narrow slice of toy collectibles (specific brands of vintage stuffed animals for which collectors pay 4 and 5 figures). She tells me that an appraiser’s best tool is his Rolodex — they know who to call to authenticate a specific item or condition.

    The problem with this nascent Fender concept is how lame the authentication is. I’ve attached a copy of the certificate for the ’57 hardtail that my friend got on request and forwarded to me. It’s a checklist that asserts various standard parts are original and that the guitar was indeed built in Fullerton, CA! Duh! I could do that!!

    But it doesn’t say HOW original or whether there are any issues. Are there any touch-ups or oversprays? Extra holes? Acceptable black lighting? Original solder joints? Possible splices under the insulation. Replacement plastic? It speaks to none of that–and as you often point out, these are the little things that knock thousands off the price tag. Note that they didn’t even spell Stratocaster correctly on the first try and had to squeeze in the first “r”! And the serial numbers on the Certificate and checklist don’t match exactly.

    Fender could do this better and by spelling out what they look for (if they are indeed scrutinizing for issues), they can educate buyers and ramp up awareness of what’s real and what isn’t. That that attention to detail is conspicuously absent. A for intention; C- for execution.

  7. davek says:

    Really thoughtful, and naturally well-informed, piece on collecting. I’d half expected it to prompt a few replies about people’s collecting experience, motivations, etc – I guess we’re a rather secretive lot, or those discussions happen elsewhere.

    I’ve no idea about the kind of Uber-wealthy collectors/investor motives and MO.

    But its interesting to reflect on where I fit in with the boomer generation collectors who are fortunate enough to have some resources to spend on the guitars their idols played.

    Having bought my first vintage 335 30 years ago (cherry stop tail 64) for what now looks like peanuts, I didn’t have the opportunity to add others until quite recently (kids, mortgages etc).

    So a few years ago I became able to go for it, and started with the ‘one of each classic’ concept – so got the pre-CBS/Norlin Strat, Tele, SG, ES175, Les Paul Jnr and Special (no not a Burst!!), ES345…..very good place to be and they all got played, mostly gigged. I wasn’t attracted by, or able to afford, concepts like the one of each colour, year etc, or by rarity.

    So I ended up going for the main variants of the 335 family which was always my first love. That’s now landed with 59 and 64 335s, 63 345, 60 355, 62 330, 64 EB2, 68 Trini and 68 12 string. Two of the nicest ones courtesy of Charlie of course!! I still have the one of each classics and this 3** group. And that’s where my collection happily sits – until the next one………………..

  8. okguitars says:

    I love the choices in your collection, Dave. It was a pleasure meeting you and hanging out in the very North of England with for a day. You also got one of the best 59’s I’ve had.

  9. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie – Sorry if my responses above strayed too far from your intended topic. I collected classic low-to-no issue Fenders and Gibsons (when I could afford to – but the taxman took a bite out of my collection). I wasn’t on the hunt as much as taking opportunities to secure good playable instruments when they arose.

    At one time I had a ’56 Goldtop (modified with PAFs), ’60 slabboard Tele, ’59 LP Junior, ’64 Firebird V, ’72 Firebird Medallion model, ’65 ES-335 (’64 specs-Custom Plaque/Bigsby with Stop Holes), ’63 SG special, ’59 ES-345, ’66 Tele Custom (sunburst/binding), ’56 Strat – (2-tone sunburst/hardtail). I played out with all of them–but had to baby the ’60 Tele, which was nearly mint. I still have the ’66 Tele and the ’56 Strat which I play out with. When my kids graduate from college I’ll be looking for a great ES-335 or 345 and I’ll come a-knockin’!

  10. RAB says:

    Nelson, nice fiddles! My collection at its high point (hmmm, when I was single!) had 22 vintage Gibson, Fender and Epiphone guitars and a selection of Blackface, Tweed and brown and blonde Fender amps. Now down to 4 guitars (two of them vintage; ‘59 First Rack 345 and ‘62 Epiphone Riviera) and 4 Blackface 1963-64 Fender amps. My main gigging guitar is a 2018 SVL ‘61 Reserve hard tail strat. I really don’t like playing my vintage guitars outdoors (to avoid very hot or cold weather) and it seems we mostly do outdoor gigs these days…

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